Muslim teachers were on Tuesday told by the majority-Catholic Philippines to remove their veils inside classrooms, in part to promote better relationships between teachers and pupils, a move reports say went down well with the Muslim teachers, as none has registered a formal complaint.
Education Secretary Armin Luistro said the move was part of reforms to make schools more sensitive to religion.
Muslim schoolgirls will still be allowed to wear the veil or “hijab” on campuses as well as “appropriate clothing” in gym class, according to the order.
The order is not stopping female Muslim schoolteachers from wearing the veil outside class, but they are told to remove the veil during lessons so they can interact better with students.
“Once the [teacher] is in the classroom, she is requested to remove the veil,” the order said.
Having Muslim female teachers remove their veils allows for “proper identification of the teachers by their pupils, thus promoting better teacher-pupil relationship”, it said.
Being able to see the teachers’ faces also helps in teaching language, where “lip formation” plays a role in pronouncing certain letters, it said.
The government’s Office of Muslim Affairs said it agreed with the education department’s measures, although it had not yet received a copy of the order.
Speaking on the order, Roque Morales, an adviser to the office, said, while he did not know how many Muslim Filipinas were working as teachers, the practice of wearing veils is widespread in the southern Philippines where the small percentage of Muslims in the country are clustered.
“You would almost see it everywhere,” he said.
According to Morales, the office had so far not received any complaints from Muslim teachers.
The office said that Muslims make up about 15 per cent of the Philippine population, mostly based in the southern regions which they consider their ancestral home.
Despite the government’s effort to accommodate the Muslim minority by respecting many of their practices, Philippines has suffered attacks from armed separatist Muslim insurgencies since the 1970s.